Significant changes in the Texas Family Code regarding child support and child support modification will take effect on September 1, 2018.
First, beginning September 1, 2018, child support orders shall include an order that the obligor party (the party having the obligation to pay child support) include dental insurance with the health insurance already required to be provided for the child(ren) made the subject of the order if dental insurance is available to the obligor through employment or otherwise at a “reasonable cost” (an amount not to exceed 1.5 percent of annual resources). Generally, an obligated party is required either to independently maintain coverage for the child(ren) made the subject of the order or to reimburse the other party for the cost of providing coverage for the child(ren). This change should not have too significant an impact on obligor parents as dental insurance coverage is generally provided at nominal cost under most plans.
The September 1, 2018, change which promises to have the biggest potential impact on child support litigation moving forward is the amendment to Texas Family Code §156.401. Under the current statute, a court may modify child support, including orders for insurance coverage,
Beginning September 1, 2018, if a party seeks to modify a prior AGREED order in which the child support obligation differs from “guideline” support (amount is either greater than or less than what would have been required under Texas Family Code guidelines), the avenues for modification of that award are significantly narrowed. While modification is still possible upon a showing of material and substantial change of circumstances of the child or a person affected by the order, the Court may no longer modify solely upon a finding of the passage of three years and $100 dollar/20 percent differential.
This is significant for litigants who may have previously agreed upon concessions in child support (or, alternatively, to pay greater than guideline support) in consideration of the other party’s agreements on matters such as child possession / custody or property division. These types of concessions were many times made with the anticipation that, after three years, a modification to guideline support will be forthcoming if requested.
The amendment to Section 156.401 removes this negotiation tool from litigants and their attorneys and, in this writer’s opinion, may negatively impact the ability to resolve certain cases, however, the actual impact of this amendment should become more clear in the coming months as courts begin to interpret the “material and substantial change” language post-September 1, 2018, and litigants and attorneys have a better understanding of what level of income differential and what types of changes of circumstance will be considered sufficiently material and substantial to warrant a modification of a prior child support order. Existing cases confirm that the best interest of the child will remain the court’s primary consideration in determining questions of whether to modify child support, and evidence regarding changes in the parties’ financial circumstances and those of the child — as well as changes in the needs of the parties and child from the time of the prior order — will be important considerations.
As with all issues arising in family law litigation, the assistance of an experienced attorney can be invaluable in evaluating the circumstances of a particular case and providing viable options and strategies for further proceedings. Attorney Lisa LeDoux Bruce is experienced in handling matters related to child support. If you would like to discuss a child support matter, you may contact the Bruce Law Firm, P.C. at 832-210-0093.
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